Oklahoma City Anglican and Episcopalian congregations are taking different directions in response to the news recently that a new Anglican province, or group, is being formed in the United States. Representatives from hundreds of churches, including at least one from Oklahoma City, met in Chicago and adopted a provisional constitution on Dec. 3, giving birth to the new Anglican Church in North America.
The split comes at the end of a protracted argument about the consecration of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson, of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Conservative congregations began looking outside the U.S. for conservative bishops to oversee their churches in 2003. Some joined the Anglican Province of Christ the King, a U.S.-based province comprised of five dioceses and individual congregations.
Archbishop Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury who is the symbolic head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, has not released a statement about the new province, but he was scheduled to meet with representatives. Williams must formally recognize the new province for it to become an official province of the Anglican Communion.
Bishop Edward J. Konieczny, of the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, said that some in the Anglican Communion have said there has been a lack of conversation about a new province in North America. The Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA) is the officially recognized representative of the Anglican Communion in the U.S. The conservatives who met in Chicago have been vocal about their purpose to challenge that standing.
Nathan C.O. Kanu, rector of Christ's Ambassadors Anglican Church in Oklahoma City, said he was in Chicago for the vote. His congregation is affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, or CANA, a missionary outreach of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, whose presiding bishop, Peter Akinola, has been an outspoken opponent of any interpretation of the Bible that would allow same-sex relationships and ordination of homosexuals.
Kanu said his congregation will be affiliated with the newly formed Anglican Church in North America.
"Our relationship with the new province is automatic," Kanu said. "Our regional leadership is part of CANA and we have had a common cause partnership with other dioceses to bring about this new province."
Vern Caswell, the rector of St. James Anglican Church in Oklahoma City, said his congregation will also be affiliated with the new province. St. James split from St. James Episcopal Church in 2004, and Caswell said they have been working for this development since they started.
"We were the first church in Oklahoma to go through the process of seeking out a foreign bishop," Caswell said. His church has been affiliated with the diocese of Argentina since 2004. "We worked toward this with the hope that one day we could have our own U.S. bishops."
According to Caswell, the current constitution and canons are provisional; the church leadership will meet again next summer to formally approve them. "Until then, they have asked us to get groups or clusters of churches to join," he said.
The concept of two Anglican fellowships existing side by side in the same country both recognized by the archbishop of Canterbury is a new one. Williams has been trying to keep the Anglican Communion together, but things worsened last year when conservative bishops refused to attend the Lambeth Conference. Those bishops held their own conference in Jerusalem, and Akinola issued a statement following the conference that stated, "There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion."
SPLIT OR SPLINTER
This is not the first split or splinter suffered by the Anglican Communion. One Oklahoma City congregation, Anglican Church of the Holy Cross, was involved in the 1976 split that came about as a result of the Communion's approval of the ordination of women. George Miley, the rector of Holy Cross, said his congregation will not be affiliating with the new province.
"We are affiliated with the Anglican Province of Christ the King," Miley said. "We're not interested in any of these new organizations. They are all trying to see who can be the leader, who will be the new archbishop of Canterbury. They don't know who they are."
Holy Cross is a conservative Anglican congregation, but their differences extend beyond the consecration of gay bishops and blessing same-sex unions. "We're primarily accused of being the ones who don't ordain women," Miley said. "But that issue is just the tip of the iceberg. These new groups want you to believe that they are taking over, that they are the 'be all, end all.' Quite frankly, it's a crock."
Kanu said he does believe the new province is replacing the ECUSA.
"The diocese of Oklahoma is declining," Kanu said. "We hope the Lord is replacing the Oklahoma diocese with a church that is very scriptural and orthodox."
His words echo those of conservatives in Chicago who said the same thing of the ECUSA nationwide.
Konieczny said the diocese of Oklahoma is very healthy.
"I don't anticipate any of our congregations departing for the new organization," he said. "I know of no congregation at the current time that is expressing a desire to leave. We have had open and candid conversations with our people and our clergy, and we will continue to do that." "Greg Horton